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Shadows In The Sun
cast: Harvey Keitel, Joshua Jackson, Claire Forlani, John Rhys-Davies, and Giancarlo Giannini

director: Brad Mirman

100 minutes (12) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 26 June]

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Jeremy Taylor is an aspiring writer who works in publishing. He has been sent off by his boss to find the reclusive writer Weldon Parish and convince him to write his first book in 20 years. Parish lives in a beautiful Italian village and uses his friends and a few whimsical tricks to try and get Jeremy to leave him alone. But Jeremy doesn't leave... oh no! He stays and slowly makes friends with the irascible but charming Parish and his beautiful daughter and comes to realise that life isn't about business or being true to yourself, it's about being comfortable and loved and... and...

To be honest, the plot doesn't really matter. In fact, I think that writer-director Brad Mirman (responsible for such classics as Highlander III and Body Of Evidence) has produced a film that is completely immune to any and every form of critical analysis.

Shadows In The Sun does for Italy what French Kiss and Chocolat did for France, and Richard Curtis comedies did for London. The film is set in an idyllic rural version of Italy where everyone is a warm-hearted eccentric who speaks perfect English. This is the Italy of Sunday supplements, travel brochures and pasta sauce commercials. Utterly unbelievable and borderline racist, this film appeals directly to the primitive parts of the brain.

The plot operates on a similar level. It's a mess of different ideas and themes and tries to be a romantic comedy, an ode to the creative spirit and a psychoanalytical fantasy about being true to yourself, and the need to 'process' 'issues' that could have come directly from the cyclical plot machine of Six Feet Under. But the film doesn't stick with any of these ideas for very long and the actors don't seem too bothered about actually playing their characters (Harvey Keitel is nothing short of horrific, did he really need the money and a holiday that badly?), so in truth you get nothing more than a huge amorphous blob of ill-defined feelings that can be summed up as 'happiness good, unhappiness bad'.

Neither a drama nor a romantic comedy, Shadows In The Sun is basically sentiment-porn. Utterly insubstantial and shallow as a Saharan puddle, the film deploys clich�s and images and ideas seen in other films and directly fires them at the part of your being that yearns for a holiday in an idyllic village where you can fall in love with a beautiful woman and drink rustic red wine whilst watching the sun go down, completely avoiding the part of your brain that dwells on the fact that the water gave you the runs, the hotel was full of howler monkeys and the beautiful girl that's staring into your eyes has a five o'clock shadow and a mysterious bulge in her bikini.

This film springs from a vision of human nature too bleak and reductive to bear. During the middle decades of the 20th century, behaviourism ruled the psychological roost. Behaviourism basically stated that 'no behaviour is ever innate, it is conditioned'. As a result, some behaviourists imagined societies built upon this principle where the people could be controlled using conditioning. In the corner of the room a screen would flash green to make the people feel joy and elation and red for them to feel wretched and hateful. Shadows In The Sun is a film that springs from this exact mindset. The film does not rely upon such trifles as plot or characterisation to work, instead it seeks out the images that we have been conditioned to respond to positively and flashes them on the screen without sense or narrative structure. Some will seek this film out and walk away from it feeling loved and warm because they've seen images of beautiful summer days, grumpy but whimsically warm-hearted old men and beautiful women riding horses. Other people will feel cheap and degraded, horrified by the cynicism and craven-ness of the thinking behind this film. For the good of humanity I hope the second group is larger than the first.

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